The Foreign Service Journal, June 2011

88 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U N E 2 0 1 1 S CHOOLS S UPPLEMENT O NLY C ONNECT ! M EETING THE C HALLENGES OF S PECIAL N EEDS S TUDENTS C ONNECTION IS WHAT ALL PEOPLE LONG FOR — BUT CONNECTIONS ARE UNIQUELY SIGNIFICANT FOR PERSONS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS . B Y T AMMIE G ANDY ast September, three Third Culture Kids converged on a campus in the northeastern United States to start the 2010-2011 school year. Matt had flown in with his dad from New Delhi; Audrey and her father came in from Frankfurt; and my son, Brandon, and I had traveled for two days from Belize. Even before they arrived, Brandon, Matt and Audrey had started connect- ing. The text messages and phone calls increased the excitement of the day as they chatted about dorms, class- es, schedules and friends. It didn’t take long for them to find each other when we reached the school, and share their enthusiasm and anticipation at the start of a new adventure. As it turned out, they were all assigned to different dorms. Matt and Audrey are in facilities off campus, while Brandon is in one on campus. But their daily schedules find them traveling to the local community college together and attending classes. There are a lot of events, activities and sports to keep them busy. And they have the comfort and support that kinship provides, especially in a new environ- ment. For us parents, it was a day of craziness in which we shared cups of oyster stew and pride in our children. Why is this noteworthy? Why belabor the obvious to an audience of families with children, teenagers and young adults who have this experience every year? Because Brandon, Matt and Audrey are not only TCKs; they are also special needs students. Connection is what all people long for — but in many ways, connections are uniquely significant for persons with special needs. All of us in the Foreign Service know that our kids have different experiences than many of their peers, especially in the U.S., and often have difficul- ty relating to others their own age. Life as a TCK can be challenging for a cognitively normal student. Add learn- ing disabilities and/or physical handicaps to the mix, and the difficulties are compounded. During our assignments, it has often been difficult for Brandon to connect with the other FS kids. They do not understand his disability, or they just don’t have the time to give him while trying to establish their own lives at a new post. Whether their disability is physical, cognitive or psychological, a special needs person often feels isolated. He or she hunkers down in the back of a classroom or sits quietly alone observing the first day of school. But now all that has changed for Brandon, Matt and Audrey, residential students at The Riverview School in Cape Cod, Mass. With the permission of their parents, I would like to introduce you to these three fantastic young adults and tell you their stories. Our son, Brandon Gandy, now 20 years old, is in his sec- ond year at Riverview. Before he was a Foreign Service brat, Brandon was an Army brat. Moving from place to Tammie Gandy is a Foreign Service spouse. In 2003, a year after she retired from the United States Army, her husband, Allen, joined the State Department as an information manage- ment specialist in the Bureau of Information Management. The couple has served in Frankfurt, Santo Domingo and Belize City. The Gandys have two sons, Brandon and Kevin. L Continued on page 94